We all have those questions that either offend us or frustrate us to no end. If you’re single, maybe you get tired of the “when are you going to get a boyfriend?” inquiry. If you’re a college student, maybe you grit your teeth every time someone asks you what your major is. Vegetarians, too, have questions they prefer people not ask them. While it can seem a little exhausting to be continually answering questions about things like protein sources, when asked in a polite and genuine manner I think many vegetarians are still happy to fill in such an unknowledgeable inquirer. Legitimate curiosity, such as “can vegetarians still drink milk?” or “what kind of supplements do you need to take?” is fine, and may even be welcomed; sarcastic comments or ill attempts at humor (“so, do you eat animal crackers?”) are unnecessary.
“Don’t you get sick of eating only salads?” A lot of people seem to think that vegetarians survive off merely fruit and vegetables, but this is not the case. While what a person eats depends specifically on how they identify as a vegetarian (as I mentioned in my “vegetarian safe ice cream” article), there is plenty of variety whether he or she is pescatarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, or even vegan. While foods such as tofu are often associated with vegetarianism, there are plenty of more mainstream meals that both vegetarians and omnivores alike enjoy, such as macaroni and cheese, a variety of soups, and of course pizza and pasta.
“How do you do it? I could never give up [eggs/cheese/meat]!” I think this is partially defensive comment isn’t always so well-received because the asker doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the vegetarian/vegan being asked the question also once loved the taste of meat/dairy/etc. Vegetarians have different reasons for choosing to eat the way they do, and they don’t necessarily have to do with taste preference (there are reasons why meat and cheese replacements are so popular). Some people choose their lifestyle for health-related reasons, and some for ethical reasons, and some for other reasons entirely. Some vegetarians may feel offended by this question because the inquirer seems to be implying that because he or she likes “x” it is as if he or she is exempt from considering other practical issues associated with the consumption of “x.”
“If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat/so tasty?” I think it is unnecessary to bring religion into the issue of what someone chooses (not) to eat. Honestly, I am not sure what someone asking this question wants to hear. Animals are made of meat, and so are humans. It’s a simple fact, but for some reason it is not socially acceptable to resort to cannibalism. Some people argue that, despite being made out of meat, it is not the reason why people were put on Earth so don’t be surprised when some say the same about animals.
“Are you sure you don’t want a bite of my burger/steak/chicken?” This, along with describing in detail about how delicious your meat is does not accomplish much more than making the person look insensitive. It is also very disrespectful. If someone has told you they are a vegetarian who does not eat x/y/z, then there is no point in even asking if he or she would like a bite of x/y/z because you already know what the answer is going to be. Offering your vegetarian friend meat will not change his or her decision to consume it.
“What about the plants’ feelings?” You will never hear someone bring up the rights and feelings of plants unless they are arguing with a vegetarian. In short, plants do not have a central nervous system or a brain and cannot feel (unlike animals) or think. Additionally, it is interesting to note that the majority of plants are not “killed” when they are eaten. Most plant foods consumed are forms of fruit, nuts, or seeds, and the plants they are harvested from are not hurt or killed by the process. In response to a more serious question, such as why it is okay to eat plants but not animals (when they are both living things), it may help to note (in addition to the above) that vegetarianism and veganism are often about minimizing suffering and doing less harm; they aren’t about being “perfect.”
Obviously, this is just a small sample of questions and everyone is different. What may be offensive to one vegetarian may not be to another; just use your best judgment and ask yourself what your motive is in asking a question. If you’re interested in the lifestyle, certainly go ahead and ask. If you are going to put down the person for his or her food choices, it’s best to just not say anything. Even if you don’t share your vegetarian friend’s views on animal product consumption, that doesn’t mean you can’t respect your friend’s decisions on the matter.